Gregory lone absence at practice

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Starting safety Steve Gregory, who broke his right thumb in the 55-31 win over the Steelers on Nov. 3, was the lone player not spotted at Patriots practice on Tuesday morning.

Gregory was expected to miss a "few weeks" after injuring the thumb, according to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. If he doesn't play against the Carolina Panthers Nov. 18 on ESPN's "Monday Night Football," third-round draft choice Duron Harmon will likely take his place.

"I think he’s really tried to understand what we’re doing, especially from a full conceptual standpoint, and has shown some improvement in that area," defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Harmon, the surprise third-round pick out of Rutgers. "I think certainly obviously he has a long way to go."

One of Gregory's biggest contributions to the defense has been his smarts and ability to ensure everyone is lined up correctly. With linebacker Jerod Mayo on season-ending injured reserve, Gregory had the communication device in his helmet the past two games, as he received the defensive call from the sideline. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower and safety Devin McCourty are candidates to take over those duties if Gregory isn't available Monday.

The brisk morning practice was the Patriots' first since last Tuesday, as players returned from their bye week after six straight days off.

The Patriots are not required to submit a participation report today, per league rules.